My objective here is to take the overwhelm out of meal planning. We cook a lot. We’re feeding a family of 4, including 2 teen boys with voracious appetites, one of whom must eat gluten-free due to Celiac Disease. But we are also very busy and things get hectic, especially during the busy after school and dinner hours. So I’m sharing our Top 5 Tips on how to meal plan for a healthy and delicious week of eats even, or especially when, you think you don’t have time!
Eating healthy – even without a food restrictions – requires some planning . You need to have some healthy choices in the pantry, fridge or freezer. But you can also supplement pretty easily with prepared food from any number of amazing eateries.
BUT when you add a food restriction such as Celiac Disease to the equation, the ability to grab safe healthy food on the go drops significantly depending on where you live. And you are suddenly thinking about and prepping 3 meals a day plus snacks.
This can be pretty overwhelming if you let it.
But there is no need! My goal here it to make meal planning less stressful.
And no better time to share our tips than now, in early September, when we are just getting back to school and back to our daily routines which can get pretty crazy juggling everyone’s commitments and schedules.
So I am reminding myself as much as you, how to stay on top of it all, roll with the daily surprises and still feed my always-hungry crew!
One final thought before heading into the tips… please keep in mind that meal planning will look different for every family. Your tastes differ, your dietary needs and preferences differ and your schedules differ. So please look at this tips as overarching thoughts you can apply to your life and family.
Tip 1: Keep it Simple, with a Twist
Weekday meals need to be easy and crowd pleasing. So stick with dishes you know and love, adding in something new or more special once a week. This keeps it simple but also interesting from a palate perspective.
And this will look different for every family.
For instance, one of my son’s could eat pasta with some version of tomato sauce many, many days each week, and the other could eat chicken the same number of days, but they get bored.
So while many of our meals may look similar throughout a week, at least once a week, I make “different” dish they love – crab quiche, spinach, mushroom and bacon quiche or spanakopita potatoes, grilled shrimp– something that we don’t eat every week.
When you add in a dish that you don’t eat all the time (it doesn’t have to be a complicated dish, just a different flavor or ingredient), it not only tastes amazing but it makes the more ordinary food more appealing the next day.
Tip 2: Cook Once, Eat Twice
Make enough food for leftovers to eat for lunch, snack or another dinner.
We always cook extra. Whether it’s something like a large soup, a sauce, roasted veggies or cookies, we love keep some in the fridge or freezer for another day.
That way you put in the effort once, but have extra for lunch, to re-purpose for dinner another next day, or just have in the freezer to pull out when you need it.
And if you’re feeling really creative you can map out your weekly meals with this in mind.
Let’s take breaded chicken cutlet for instance. If you put in the time to make breaded chicken cutlet, make enough for 2 or more meals. You might serve it one night with roasted potatoes and a vegetable, and later in the week you could turn it into chicken parmesan, or simply save some in the freezer for another day,
And it took me a long time to learn this, but dinner leftovers make the best lunch the next day!
If you follow my Instagram Stories, you can see how my lunches are almost always something I grab out of the fridge already made and I’ll heat up in a skillet if needed.
Tip 3: Build a meal planning routine that works for you
To eat healthy, especially with a dietary restriction, there is some level of planning that has to happen. Winging it makes it harder, not impossible, just harder.
I can’t say this enough: there’s no one way or right way to meal plan or keep your kitchen stocked.
Some of you may find it easier to cook for 3 hours on a Sunday. Other may find themselves on a baseball field Sunday so you prefer to do a little Monday, a little Tuesday.
Personally, we switch it up depending on what our week looks like and we tend to batch cook a few times a week but not always Sunday.
So whether you meal prep on Sundays, batch cook a few times a week, or cook a little each day, find a routine that fits your lifestyle.
Tip 4: Stock your Staples
This means two things —
- Make sure you always have essential ingredients on hand in your pantry, fridge or freezer, AND
- Meal prep some basics that can be turned into lunch or a snack and meal prep some snacks and desserts.
For us, that means always having the pantry and fridge stocked with basic ingredients like fresh fruits and veggies, eggs, beans, yogurt, pasta, spices, oils to name a few. (You can see more of our pantry staples in the Shop Section of the website — note, these are affiliate links)
AND it means always having the refridgerator stocked with homemade tomato sauce, some quinoa, hummus, salad dressings, grilled or breaded chicken, roasted vegetables, energy bites, homemade candy, cookies or muffins.
Importantly, we do not make all of this every week. But we do make it on a regular, almost rotational or as needed, basis so that we stay stocked with everyone’s favorites.
Tip 5: Back Pocket Recipes
Ok, this last one is key!
No matter how much you plan and how much you prep, there will be times when you do not have time to cook dinner or something comes up and you need a quick and easy dish. So find a few quick and easy recipes you can whip up in a pinch.
So as you get back to the routine this Fall, hopefully these tips will help take the stress out of meal planning!
Leave a comment and let me know if you find this helpful and what other tips work for you.